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Matt MoerschbaecherMatt Moerschbaecher's research is part of an assistantship funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. The information will be included as a chapter in his dissertation, which is examining coastal restoration on the Mississippi River Delta during periods of extreme climate change.

Student Calculates University’s Carbon Footprint

It seems “going green” is the new trend and LSU is not far behind.

Matt Moerschbaecher, a PhD candidate, in the department of oceanography and coastal sciences, is calculating the University’s carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the impact our daily activities have on the environment in terms of greenhouse gases produced. It is measured in units of carbon dioxide, or CO2.

In mid-July, Moerschbaecher began his research, which included finding out how many students commute to campus, how many flights employees take for business, and even the amount of fertilizer used on campus. He is looking at three basic scopes of emissions: electricity generated on campus, off-campus purchased power, and mobile emissions, such as commuter traffic.

Matt MoerschbaecherMoerschbaecher hopes his work will lead to a sustainability initiative.
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“So far we have results for energy purchased off the electricity grid and that came in at about 150,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent,” Moerschbaecher said. “If I had to estimate right now I’d say we’re going to be under half a million tons of CO2 equivalent for the entire campus once we have all of the numbers processed. We will be under that half a million cap, which we are shooting for.”

Moerschbaecher said the University is on par with similar state schools of our size—a student population of 27,000 and a total campus community of 35,000 people.

“You have to look across the region at schools of similar size and similar temperate zones,” Moerschbaecher said. “In Louisiana you will expect more cooling in the summer and less heating in the winter than schools in the northern latitudes. You have to take those factors into account when doing the study.”

Moerschbaecher said the research has come along easier than he expected because so many people are willing to alleviate the workload.

“It’s not all thrown on me, I have folks at facility services who are very happy to be a part of such a study,” he said. “There are a lot of people working together as a cooperative team effort.”

The data used to complete the study dates back to 2000, but there are pieces of data such as information from solid waste, which only dates back to 2005. For those numbers, Moerschbaecher is able to estimate numbers based on the campus population size.

“Going back to 2004, we had 31,000 students on campus and now we’re at 27,000 students on campus, so what we’re looking at is our per capita energy consumption following the trends in populations on campus,” he said. “If we had that many less students, are we still consuming the same amount of energy? Where are the efforts to reduce energy on campus? And how effective have they been over the last few years?”

Climate Action Toolkit

The Clean Air-Cool Planet on-line Campus Climate Action Toolkit (CCAT) is a resource to anyone who is interested in making his/her educational institution more "climate friendly" — college or university students, staff, faculty, administrators, trustees, alumni, community members.

Click here for more information.

To find the results, Moerschbaecher is using the Clean Air-Cool Planet online Campus Climate Action Toolkit. This calculator will be customized so that, after Moerschbaecher has completed his work, future students or instructors can recall or project the University’s carbon emissions.

“It’s basically an Excel spreadsheet and it has a summary module in it where it takes the numbers and puts them together into certain graphs,” he said. “You’ll have similar graphs to other universities but at the same time you can customize it, based on whatever your fuel mix is for energy, but there is a set module. “

The full report is expected in May 2009, which will include all of the research data he was able to collect. Moerschbaecher is conducting this greenhouse gas inventory as part of an assistantship funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. The information will be presented to several on-campus organizations, and will also be included as a chapter in his dissertation, which is examining coastal restoration on the Mississippi River Delta during periods of extreme climate change.

Once the research is complete, Moerschbaecher would like to see small changes on campus that will create a positive result.

“It would be great to see a sustainability initiative on campus where it’s public outreach education toward campus community members saying ‘we can consolidate class sizes to certain buildings to where we don’t have to power buildings where there’s only one or two classes, or we can reduce our consumption during peak hours in the evenings,’” he said. “As we move into the future our energy bills are going to start rising for students. We want to try and reduce our energy fee as much as possible so students have a real opportunity to see the gains that we’re making with efficiency.”

While “going green” is becoming a selling point for universities such as Purdue and Georgetown, LSU is one of the first schools in the southeast that is carrying out a study of campus greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have to use the data in a meaningful manner, locally within our state and on our campus,” he said. “We want to look toward creating a healthy environment on campus and understanding our limits. It’s very difficult to change large-scale behavior toward energy efficiency if people do not understand what that means.”

Moerschbaecher said LSU is unique because it is one of the only state universities that has dealt directly with climate change, disaster management, and coastal restoration.

“LSU has decided to embrace environmental disasters with this change. The only other place I can see climate change having such a direct effect would be Alaska dealing with glacier melting.”

With more businesses participating in carbon calculations comes a desire to offset emissions. Moerschbaecher said people might put their money toward preserving a forest in other areas, when efforts should be concentrated locally.

“We have to find out how we can reduce our consumption here on campus and still keep up the efficiency of how this campus operates on a daily basis,” he said. “We should reduce the emissions that we have locally and not try and buy offsets outside of the state.”

For more information on the School of the Coast and Environment please visit http://www.sce.lsu.edu/.

Holly Ann Phillips| Writer | Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2008

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